La La-La La La La-La La La La La
That was a tune I heard every Saturday morning throughout the 1980s. It was the tune sung by those forest dwelling creatures, the Smurfs.
I was a big Smurf fan when I was a kid and I still am. You can see by these photos. The first is the shelf above my drawing table. The second is of my comic collection. I love them so much they aren’t put away in boxes and proudly displayed on my bookshelf. They are currently being published by Papercutz and I highly recommend visiting your local comic shop and picking them up. The last picture is of my closet door where a Papa Smurf poster hang.
Although the Smurfs hit the Saturday morning airwaves in September 1981, they got their start 23 years earlier. The Smurfs first appeared as a Franco-Belgian comic in 1958 created by Pierre Culliford popularly known by his pen name, Peyo.
At the time Peyo was working on a comic called Johan and Peewit as they are called in America. Peyo was telling their adventures since 1947. Johan and Peewit was a fantasy sword and sorcery story set in the Middle Ages. In one adventure, a magic flute was causing havoc within the kingdom. Johan and Peewit got help from the Smurfs to deal with the flute. The Smurfs were so popular that by 1959 they appeared in their first solo adventure.
Before airing on Saturday mornings and being produced by Hanna-Barbera, the Smurfs made their first animated appearance in the European movie “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute”. It was based on their introduction comic and directed by their creator. I’m sure I’ll discuss this movie in the future so I won’t say much about it now. All I’ll say is that it was made in 1976 and if you are a Smurf fan it is worth the watch.
Now that you know a slight history, it’s time to GET IN TOON! with classic animated series with a nine year run, The Smurfs.
Premiering September 12, 1981 the series focused on the Smurfs. They were blue skinned and measured three apples high (about 3 inches). All the smurfs, but a few, wore white pants and a white hat. Papa Smurf wore red and had a white beard. He was the only smurf with facial hair besides Grandpa who appeared years later in the series. It’s almost impossible to tell Smurfs apart as they all look alike. The way to tell them apart was by their names which were based on their traits. For example there was Jokey who liked to give others exploding presents and laugh. Lazy preferred to sleep. Handy built things and Hefty was the strong one. Brainy was a bookworm and Vanity loved looking at himself in the mirror. They all lived in the Smurf Village in mushroom houses.
Very few humans knew of their existence. Johan and Peewit knew them of course. As did Homnibus, Mother Nature and the evil wizard Gargamel. The show primarily featured Gargamel and his cat Azreal trying to capture the smurfs. Gargamel wants the greatest wizard nor did he have any good luck. His home was a hovel. Made of stone with a straw roof, Gargamel was always up to no good but the Smurfs always foiled his plans. Sometimes when I go back and watch the show I actually feel bad for Gargamel. I don’t root for him to win and catch the Smurfs to turn them into gold (come on he is the bad guy) but I feel bad because of how he was written. It obvious Gargamel had a rough life. He’s bullied by every other wizard and ogre the like. His financial situation was bleak and when he’d lose, Gargamel would whine. Even though he was the villain all Gargamel was trying to do was improve his life. To me that’s great writing. Here in a simple kids cartoon we’re given a character who seems simple on the surface but is a very layered character. That’s some good storytelling. There was even a couple of times Gargamel showed he had a heart like in the 1982 TV movie, The Smurfs Christmas Special. It’s because he shows his heart I feel for Gargamel. It shows there is good in him, even if it’s buried incredibly deep within him. Without that Gargamel is a stereotypical bad guy that just does bad things for the sake of being bad. Honestly, Gargamel having a heart is rare. Beside the Christmas special, there is only other one time I remember. I don’t remember when it exactly was or what the episode was about. It was sometime between season 6 and 8 when Gargamel had a young apprentice named Scruple. All I remember was a kindness Gargamel showed to Scruple. It was only for a moment but it was there. At least, that’s how I remember it.
I love animation so much and there is something in almost every cartoon that will make me say, this is my favorite because…, but Hanna-Barbera is my all time favorite company. The art of the Smurfs is a thing of beauty. Taking Peyo’s style and adding the Hanna-Barbera flair made a lasting influence on my art. My style is very much Hanna-Barbera meets Peyo as you can see from artwork below.
Now let’s take a look at some of the art from the Smurfs. You can see how the art influences what I do.
The Smurfs animated series was targeted to children and the stories were very easy to follow. Episodes worked in two different ways. One week we’d see a full half hour episode while other weeks there would be two shorter stories within the thirty minute time slot. The stories were adapted from Peyo’s original comics. One of my favorite episodes was called “The Smurf’s Apprentice” where a Clumsy Smurf wanted to be Papa’ apprentice and was upset when Papa told him Brainy is more than enough of an apprentice. The next day Clumsy finds himself at Gargamel’s and steals a page from One of the evil wizard’s spellbook turning himself into a scaly lizard creature. With the help of Papa and his friends they return to Gargamel’s hovel to find the antidote.
The original Smurfs animated series lasted nine years and has made a lasting impression on children of the 80’s. In recent years the Smufs made a come back in CG animated films which I’m sure I’ll discuss in a future blog. Between comics, television, and movies the Smurfs have been around for 70+ years which demonstrates staying power. You can find some of the Smurfs series on DVD. I own a few of the DVDs, however I have been unable to find the completed series on DVD. I’m not sure but I don’t think the completed series is available in the United States. I highly recommend this series to kids of all ages.